There are so many incredible films that are either based on, or came from, short stories. It’s probably easier, I think, to turn a short story into a film than it is to turn a novel or a 300-400 page book into a film. With short stories being much, well, shorter, it gives film industries more creativity to bring the story to life without the pressures of having to make sure you haven’t missed anything vital.
It also gives the storylines and characters more room to breathe, so that nothing is rushed and can really explore and see what’s going on.
So, we’re looking at ten popular films that most people didn’t realise were actually based on short stories.
1. The Shawshank Redemption, based on Stephen King’s Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption
The Shawshank Redemption is an absolute timeless classic film featuring Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins from 1994. Based on King’s 103-page story, which was one of four stories originally published in his 1982 collection Different Seasons, subtitled Hope Springs Eternal. The 142 minute film adaption is one of the most celebrated films of all time and was nominated for seven Oscars in 1995 including Best Picture and Best Actor for Freeman. Freeman himself also stated in an interview that this story is his favourite book.
Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is sentenced to two consecutive life terms in prison for the murders of his wife and her lover and is sentenced to a tough prison. However, only Andy knows he didn’t commit the crimes. While there, he forms a friendship with Red (Morgan Freeman), experiences brutality of prison life, adapts, helps the warden, etc., all in 19 years
2. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Fitzgerald’s 26 page story, originally published in Collier’s in 1922, is the short story that formed the basis of the 2008 Brad Pitt hit film. The 166 minute film, directed by David Fincher, received thirteen Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director for Fincher, Best Actor for Pitt, and Best Supporting Actress for Taraji P. Henson, and won three, for Best Art Direction, Best Makeup, and Best Visual Effects.
Born under unusual circumstances, Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt) springs into being as an elderly man in a New Orleans nursing home and ages in reverse. Twelve years after his birth, he meets Daisy, a child who flickers in and out of his life as she grows up to be a dancer (Cate Blanchett). Though he has all sorts of unusual adventures over the course of his life, it is his relationship with Daisy, and the hope that they will come together at the right time, that drives Benjamin forward.
3. Everything Must Go, based on Raymond Carver’s Why Don’t You Dance?
Why Don’t You Dance? was one of the many short stories Carver published in his 1981 book What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, but this story in particular is actually only eight pages long. But these eight pages were the inspiration behind the 2010 film Everything Must Go which starred Will Ferrell and was directed by Dan Rush, ending up 97 minutes long.
Longtime salesman Nick Halsey (Will Ferrell) has seen better days. No longer at the top of his game, Nick, an alcoholic, loses his job for showing up drunk one too many times. On the same day, he finds that his wife has dumped him — and his possessions — on the front lawn of their home. Facing the fact that his life is collapsing around him, Nick holds a giant yard sale that turns into a unique survival strategy.
4. The Secret life of Walter Mitty, based on James Thurber’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Thurber’s original short story was originally a ten page story published in The New Yorker back in 1939, which provided the foundation for the 2013 American adventure comedy-drama film that’s directed, co-produced by and starring Ben Stiller. The film, which runs for 114 minutes, made $188.3 million in the box office.
Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller), an employee at Life magazine, spends day after monotonous day developing photos for the publication. To escape the tedium, Walter inhabits a world of exciting daydreams in which he is the undeniable hero. Walter fancies a fellow employee named Cheryl (Kristen Wiig) and would love to date her, but he feels unworthy. However, he gets a chance to have a real adventure when Life’s new owners send him on a mission to obtain the perfect photo for the final print issue.
5. Total Recall, based on Philip K. Dick’s We Can Remember it For You Wholesale
Both the 1990 and the 2012 version of Total Recall is based on Dick’s short story, which was originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in 1966. The original 18 page story was then turned into 118 minutes in 1990 starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and then into 130 minutes in 2012 featuring Colin Farrell.
Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a bored construction worker in the year 2084 who dreams of visiting the colonized Mars. He visits “Rekall,” a company that plants false memories into people’s brains, in order to experience the thrill of Mars without having to travel there. But something goes wrong during the procedure; Quaid discovers that his entire life is actually a false memory and that the people who implanted it in his head now want him dead.
6. Minority Report, based on Philip K. Dick’s The Minority Report
Another one of Dick’s short stories turned into a film, although in the beginning, The Minority Report was originally just conceived as a sequel to Total Recall, but is now considered a classic film with Tom Cruise. The 145 minute film came from the 32 page short story that was originally published in 1956 in Fantastic Universe.
In a future where a special police unit is able to arrest murderers before they commit their crimes, an officer from that unit is himself accused of a future murder. In the year 2054 A.D. crime is virtually eliminated from Washington D.C. thanks to an elite law enforcing squad “Precrime”.
7. 2001: A Space Odyssey, based on Arthur C. Clarke’s The Sentinel
2001: A Space Odyssey made $146 million in the box office after only having a budget of $10.5–12 million. The highly successful film of 1948 was inspired by the 8 page story from Clarke, The Sentinel, which was originally published as Sentinel of Eternity in Ten Story Fantasy in 1951.
An imposing black structure provides a connection between the past and the future. When Dr. Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) and other astronauts are sent on a mysterious mission, their ship’s computer system, HAL, begins to display increasingly strange behavior, leading up to a tense showdown between man and machine that results in a mind-bending trek through space and time.
8. Brokeback Mountain, based on Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain
Proulx’s 30 page short story – originally published in The New Yorker I 1997 – is the inspiration behind this LGBTQ+ film that hit our screens in 2005. The film, which has a length of 134 minutes, has won a total of 142 awards with a further 130 nominations.
In 1963, rodeo cowboy Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) and ranch hand Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) are hired by rancher Joe Aguirre (Randy Quaid) as sheep herders in Wyoming. One night on Brokeback Mountain, Jack makes a drunken pass at Ennis that is eventually reciprocated. Though Ennis marries his longtime sweetheart, Alma (Michelle Williams), and Jack marries a fellow rodeo rider (Anne Hathaway), the two men keep up their tortured and sporadic affair over the course of 20 years.
9. Sleepy Hollow, based on Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
This famous 1999 American gothic supernatural horror film directed by Tim Burton and featuring Johnny Depp, was actually inspired by Irving’s 33 page short story which was originally published in The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent away back in 1820. The film made a massive $30,060,467 in its opening weekend and has won 28 awards, lasting a total of 105 minutes.
In 1799, young Police Detective Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp) is sent from New York City to a small town called Sleepy Hollow to investigate a series of murders. Approached by the town’s council, Crane discovers that three of the murders were some of the most notable men in town. The council also says that the murders are the work of a deadly Hessian Horseman (Christopher Walken), whose head has been mysteriously chopped off. With the help from a young sidekick and the beautiful Katrina Van Tassel (Christina Ricci), Crane’s investigation takes him further through the dark woods where more murders have been occurring. What Crane does not realize is that the mysterious Horseman is being controlled by someone in a sinister plot to kill the most suitable men in the village.
10. Don’t Look Now, based on Daphne du Maurier’s Don’t Look Now
A mystery, thriller drama, director Nicolas Roeg has mixed reviews when this film first hit the screens, but it’s now considered a cult horror classic. The film, which stars Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie, was based from du Maurier’s 56 page short story which was originally published in Not After Midnight just two years earlier in 1971.
Still grieving over the accidental death of their daughter, Christine (Sharon Williams), John (Donald Sutherland) and Laura Baxter (Julie Christie) head to Venice, Italy, where John’s been commissioned to restore a church. There Laura meets two sisters (Hilary Mason, Clelia Matania) who claim to be in touch with the spirit of the Baxters’ daughter. Laura takes them seriously, but John scoffs until he himself catches a glimpse of what looks like Christine running through the streets of Venice.